March 12, 2013

U.S. Senate panel ready to OK gun background checks

Alan Fram / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

The NRA, which opposes the background check expansion, is encouraging its members to contact Congress, association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said.

Leaders of the GOP-run House have said they will wait to act until the Senate passes legislation. House Republicans have expressed little interest in requiring background checks for private sales.

Democrats say background checks help keep criminals and others from getting weapons, and say keeping records of private sales is the only way to ensure that those checks are actually conducted. Currently, the government must destroy records of checks it conducts within a day, but gun dealers must maintain paper records of the transactions for 20 years.

Republicans oppose record keeping as a step toward a federal gun registry, which is barred by law. They also argue that current laws need to be enforced better without imposing record-keeping requirements on additional gun buyers.

GOP senators prepared several amendments for Tuesday's debate, including one by Grassley imposing a mandatory minimum 1-year sentence for people who lie on paperwork submitted to licensed gun dealers. It was unclear whether Grassley would offer that amendment.

Since the federal background check system began in 1998, the government has received more than 118 million gun applications and turned down 2.1 million, or 1.8 percent, according to the Justice Department. The figures are through 2010.

Supporters of stronger curbs say those statistics show the large number of dangerous people denied firearms. They say extending the requirement to more sales would make it even more effective.

Opponents say broadening background checks would encourage more people to seek weapons illegally.

A 2004 survey of state prisoners involved in crimes that included guns showed that around 4 in 10 got their firearms from friends or family and nearly that many got them from unregulated street dealers. Only around 1 in 9 got them from licensed dealers.

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